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The press release persists; long live the local paper

February 24, 2010

I opened up “The New York Times Magazine” on November 24th and saw my friend Alexis and her husband in an article about the community support that helped revive their farm after an arson fire nearly destroyed it. My immediate thought was to check out her blog, Facebook and Twitter outreach to see how she had leveraged the big press hit. Because, well, “The Times” is great, but what’s it doing for her business locally? That’s when I realized while the blog was informative and effective, its readership was limited to people who already knew it was there. A great communications tool for her 150-member community supported agriculture program and people who checked in when she was written up in food and sustainable agriculture blogs/websites – and “The New York Times Magazine.” Facebook and Twitter weren’t in play, and Alexis, her CSA manager and blogkeeper, Bonnie agreed it was time to take things viral.

So, when I first talked to Alexis about introducing social media to her business, she said, “Oh good, can you send a press release to local papers?” I flinched a bit because I was really excited to get the social media program started and not as enthused about the old-school methods. A flinch was all, though, because Alexis’ enthusiasm actually echoes the precise dynamics that are keeping local newspapers afloat, and in many cases thriving. Maybe large newspapers can’t compete with the global reach of online publishing, but online news sites can’t hold a candle to the kind of vital information that small communities and rural dwellers depend upon. In fact, they are two separate creatures.

“In many ways, (small town) newspapers will probably survive and, in some cases, flourish longer than some of the much larger newspapers,” said USC journalism professor Bryce Nelson. “They operate on a very lean budget, don’t devote a lot of money to editorial product, and they’re better able to withstand economic downturns.”

More important to local business, however, it’s the “hyperlocal issues that affect local people” which claims promise success to local papers and why local business must take heed.

In the pervasive panic over the imploding print news industry, much has been studied and reported (mostly by market research firms affiliated with media outlets) on the decline in reader/viewership of print and radio specifically and news in general. I couldn’t find but a smattering of studies in local newspaper readership, so I chose this Wisconsin newspaper study to give a general impression. In this study, 77 percent of people in this middle-America state read a local community newspaper. That is, 77 percent of the 83 percent that said they read a newspaper each week. Sounds a little high to me, but let’s look at the study’s other finding more relevant to this post:  When it came to local shopping, the study showed that Wisconsinites turn to their local newspapers first for purchasing information:  47 percent purchased from a newspaper advertisement. The Internet (19 percent), television (15 percent) and radio (6 percent) lagged behind. Again, this likely reflects the general population.

Social media is going to make Soul Food Farm a more active participant in local niche advocacy issues, including sustainable farming, agriculture, the whole and organic food movements, humane treatment of animals raised for food, urban homesteading, and health/nutrition. And it will bring a lot of business to this inauspicious little farm that sells some of the most coveted pastured poultry and eggs in the Bay Area. However, if any business were to maintain its allegiance to the local newspaper, a sustainable farm can’t argue its value. After all, any transaction beyond the reach of most local papers’ readerships is where a sustainable business stops being sustainable. Which means local news rules. To that end, we bring you the latest:

Brighter days seen at Vacaville farm after fire
The Vacaville Reporter, February 21st, 2010
One Comment leave one →
  1. February 25, 2010 4:07 pm

    Fantastic post and an excellent connect-the-dots exploration. Local papers work because they’re much more in touch with their readers. Period. Now, one could argue that local bloggers are the alternative, and that has merit, but it’s not a zero sum game. I think local papers can co-exist happily with local bloggers as community plazas for local businesses.

    Our local paper, the Marin IJ, is an example. While it hasn’t yet insinuated itself into the digital world, it’s staff is excellent at covering (and uncovering) local issues. Several years ago, I asked the editor whether I could actually get the paper (which then had afternoon distribution) at my home in the morning. He went out of his way to try (turned out we were too far off the main distribution routes to change routine). Within a year, though, the paper’s entire circulation was shifted to morning.

    Newspapers (especially local ones) have a long way to go to work themselves better into the digital world and their community’s digital world, but they’re starting. And that’s key. People still want their information disseminated to a wide audience and while blogs are great, their audience is generally of like-minded people. There’s a bigger world out there, even in a small town.

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